The church of St John, the baptist, in Healaugh is thought to occupy or lie close to the site of an Anglo-Saxon nunnery founded in the 7th century AD by St Heiu, an abbess, who also built a monastery at Hartlepool. She was instructed by St Aidan who is credited with bringing Christianity from Ireland to Northumbria and founded the priory at Lindisfarne. Healaugh may take its name from the abbess (“laugh” meaning ‘territory’). A small stained glass window describes the nunnery as a “hermitage in the woods”. Sadly, no trace remains. The church includes the alabaster tombs of Sir Thomas, 1st Baronet Wharton and his two wives. Thomas bought and lived in the manor of Healaugh in the 16th century. Another memorial is to Stamp Brooksbank, a subsequent owner and governor of the Bank of England in the 18th century.
Don’t miss the stunning 15th Romanesque arch to the south door with its intriguing carved figures and beakheads. An excellent guide in the church explains what each represents and other documents describe the general history of the building and village. The church is open daily. Healaugh has some lovely old buildings. Cosy Cottage looks just that. The old vicarage also catches the eye as do similarly imposing vicarages in Bilton and Wighill.
The pub at the start in Bilton is the Tickled Trout (tickledtrout.co.uk) which was converted from the Chequers last year. Not surprisingly, it specialises in fish and also has an extensive pizza menu. Equally inviting is the White Swan in Wighill (whiteswanwighill.co.uk), two thirds of the way round, which also operates an artisan bakery. Loaves can be collected on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays with orders 24 hours in advance.
The last side of the triangle leads you up a fine avenue and through Wighill Manor estate with broad views either side. One word of caution: some of the rights of way are indistinct and cross fields. You may need to go around them if you save the walk until when crops are growing.
1 From the Tickled Trout follow broad track south and to L of a wood where track narrows to path. At wood edge bear L then immediately R through hedge. Keep ahead with another hedge on L. Just after cresting minor rise bear L onto Tarmac lane heading towards a church tower. Where lane meets road keep ahead into Healaugh.
2 Explore church then return to war memorial and keep ahead down main street. At end as road bears L keep ahead signed to Catterton. After bench turn R through handgate onto bridleway. Head across farmyard to R of car port then through gate. Turn R then after 20 yards pass through another gate. Keep parallel with fence and hedge, pass over stile and keep tight to hedge on R. Pass over wobbly double stile and third stile to reach lane. Turn R and immediately L and over stile. Pass wood on R (no path) towards double metal gate and culvert footbridge. Cross field in front (no path) heading to L of farm and R of dead tree. Pass through metal gate and keep ahead under power lines towards pylon. Pass over gap in electric fence, through kissing-gate and onto road. Turn L and into Wighill.
3 After the White Swan at t-junction turn R towards Wighill Manor Lodges. At fingerpost fork R off lane and onto footpath. Pass to R of metal fieldgate and continue ahead with fence on L. Pass between metal and stone posts and under power lines. Just before farm fork R, keeping hedge on L. Pass over stile on fieldgate, cross farm track, pass through fieldgate and, after 100 yards, over another stile on fieldgate. Head across field (no path) in 2 o’clock direction heading for fieldgate with stile. Pass over it and keep ahead on ridge between fields. At hedge end in front bear L to keep hedge on R along farm track. As track bears L head across field (no path) in 1 o’clock direction towards clump of pines trees with red private signs. Pass to L of trees and, at corner of field, head at 2 o’clock towards lane. Turn L onto it and back to Bilton
Mountain bike route: Start in Tockwith and take the bridleway to Bilton then follow the walk route above to Healaugh. This bridleway is all cyclable although you may need to push briefly beside the wood if it’s muddy. Take the road to Wighill. You can’t cycle through Wighill Manor so return via Walton and Bickerton crossroads. The route is 12½ miles.
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